With real and extraordinary in tandem with each other, exploring hushed-up conversations, bringing forth everyday conflicts -- with self and the collective, playwright Mahesh Dattani's works have the extraordinary ability to make reader/audience take a long hard look at himself. Action precipitates as much with words as with pauses.
The first playwright in English to be awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for 'Final Solutions', Dattani, who debuted with 'Where There is a Will' (1988), is now all set to write a sequel to his much-performed 'Dance Like a Man'.
While the original one dealt with identity, patriarchy and strained relationships between the members of the family when the son decides to pursue a career in Bharatanatyam, the sequel, set 30 years later, revolves around the appropriation of art by political ideologies.
Stressing that art is a response to one's time and place, the playwright tells IANS, "It reacts and responds to what is around us. Whenever things change, they will find its mirroring in the arts. My work is no exception. As a creative person, I derive from things that take place around me."
Dattani, whose works raise issues, including communal tension, same-sex love, child abuse, patriarchy and alienation, is just back from the US where he directed a collection of short stories from the Puranas.
"They were received extremely well as they dealt with a host of contemporary issues like climate change and androgyny, among others," he says.
In times when there is a dearth of new young voices in theatre writing, he feels the problem persists not just in English and Hindi, but in other languages as well.
Adding that when it comes to Hindi and English, both belong to all and none, he says, "However, I am very sure there are young playwrights we are not aware of. It is about how to bring them to the forefront to tell their stories. If we do not create this space there is a danger of losing out on a new generation of writers. You cannot rely solely on writers of the past for new concerns."
Lamenting the lack of writing courses in premier theatre institutes in India, he says while in the West, training in writing for theatre is taken extremely seriously, Dattani says, "Theatre laboratories are the need of the hour. Spaces where young talent is nourished and allowed to make mistakes. Where they learn the craft of telling stories effectively and interact with others."
For someone who has made several sensitive films like 'Mango Souffle', 'Morning Raga', 'Dance Like a Man', and 'Ek Alag Mausam', he admits that they were far ahead of their times and the response would have been different had they released today.
"People tell me all the time that things have changed now, and new stories and ideas have a space. Yes, I would love to get back to cinema.There are some ideas that I have shared with production houses, but it is such a laborious process getting anything green-lit."
Adding that there is a major problem with some production houses that have teams of writers who cannot really claim to know their jobs, and where the marketing department takes a call on creative decisions, he says, "When you are looking to break boundaries, it is important that you take some calculated risks with content."
Talk to him about his process, and Dattani, who was in Chandigarh recently for 'Literati', asserts that it varies. However, what remains constant is the ritual of writing every day.
"It does not matter if I am productive or not, I will sit and write or edit. It is not easy as earlier distractions were extraneous, now they are instantaneous -- like the mobile phone."
Even as several artists are breaking silos and allowing spillages in their works, bringing together theatre, dance, text and performance, Dattani feels it is an exciting trend that needs to be encouraged.
"But we need more spaces and platforms that encourage it. Kochi Biennale is an excellent example. One witnesses such interesting experimentation there, something that helps every art form involved."